Unser Wins Fuel Gamble at Gateway as Oldsmobile Sweeps Podium MADISON, Ill., Sunday, August 26, 2001 - Team owner Rick Galles played the role of riverboat gambler today in the Gateway Indy 250 on the banks of the Mississippi River. He won his...
Unser Wins Fuel Gamble at Gateway as Oldsmobile Sweeps Podium
MADISON, Ill., Sunday, August 26, 2001 - Team owner Rick Galles played the role of riverboat gambler today in the Gateway Indy 250 on the banks of the Mississippi River. He won his bet that driver Al Unser Jr. could make it to the finish at Gateway International Raceway without pitting for fuel in the final 67 laps. Galles made the call to stay out and Unser scored his first IRL victory of the season.
"We hustled in, we hustled out, we hustled every single lap out there," said Unser. "When we were saving fuel I was running the fastest laps of the day. We were trying our best and the good Lord shined on us today."
Unser led a podium sweep by Oldsmobile drivers in the series' inaugural event in St. Louis, scoring Oldsmobile's tenth win of the season and 47th overall in IRL competition. He finished 1.1834 seconds ahead of Oldsmobile driver Mark Dismore at the egg-shaped 1.25-mile track. Points leader Sam Hornish Jr. finished third in Panther Racing's Oldsmobile Dallara and increased his margin in the championship race to 45 points over Buddy Lazier.
Galles went for broke when he kept Unser out for the decisive final laps. "I was either going to head for the motor home and hide or I was going to join the victory celebration," he laughed. "There wasn't going to be anything in between."
Unser scored the first victory of the season with an Oldsmobile IRL Aurora V8 prepared by VDS Engines of Midland, Texas. "Franz Weis, our engine builder, has done a terrific job with our motors," said Galles. "He's worked real hard on fuel mileage. Al had the engine running lean, but we were getting faster lap times than when we practiced.
"I really wasn't thinking of going to the end," Galles confided. "Al saved fuel and we were able to make it. I'm surprised he was able to make his victory lap!"
Unser took the lead on the 190th lap of the 200-lap contest when Hornish pitted for a splash-and-go. Although pit strategy determined the final outcome, the race was no economy run. Unser and Hornish diced wheel-to-wheel throughout the afternoon.
"In the middle part of the race I was running the go-fast, full-rich position and I could pull away from Sam," Unser explained. "At the end, Rick said to save as much fuel as you can. That's what I was doing."
Like Old Man River, 22-year-old Sam Hornish just keeps rollin' along toward the IRL championship. He posted his eighth Top Three finish in 11 starts and increased his margin over Lazier to 45 points with two races remaining. He is the only driver who has been running at the finish of every event this season.
"It was just a matter of getting the right pit strategy," observed Hornish, who earned a two-point bonus for leading 81 laps, the most by any driver. "We didn't think anyone could make it to the end of the race so we pretty much ran flat out. If that yellow hadn't come out, we might not have been able to go the distance. It's better to finish third than not finish at all.
"We had the best handling car out there," Sam asserted. "On the last pit stop we didn't have to change the tires. Speedway Engines did a great job and gave me a good motor. I had a couple of side-by-side races with Al going down into Turn 1, and that was pretty exciting."
Lazier started alongside Hornish when rain cancelled qualifying and the grid was set by entrant points. Lazier lost fuel pressure immediately after the start and soldiered to an unlucky 13th place finish, ten laps behind the leader.
Dismore was delighted with his runner-up finish in Kelley Racing's Oldsmobile Dallara after a disappointing season. "I don't know if I could have caught Al at the end," he conceded. "I needed that caution - we were going to come up two laps short. I already had the engine so lean that we were probably down 40 or 50 horsepower. Then at the end I went back to full power and had a pretty good car. I could have hounded Al, but passing him is another thing."
Hornish can clinch the championship by finishing in the Top Five in the next two events. Scott Sharp, third with 310 points, is still in contention for the $1 million Indy Racing Northern Light Series title.
The battle will resume next weekend at the Delphi Indy 300, the series' inaugural event at the new Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., on Sunday, Sept. 2. The race will be televised on ABC at 4 p.m. EDT.
Track: Gateway International Raceway, 1.25-mile oval
Winner: Al Unser Jr., Galles Racing Oldsmobile G-Force
Margin of Victory: 1.1834 seconds
Average Speed: 136.370 mph
Pole: Sam Hornish Jr./Oldsmobile (qualifying cancelled due to rain, grid set on entrant points)
Fastest Lap: Robbie Buhl/Infiniti, 166.487 mph
Top Five Finishers
1. Al Unser Jr./Oldsmobile, 200 laps
2. Mark Dismore/Oldsmobile, 200
3. Sam Hornish Jr./Oldsmobile, 200
4. Eddie Cheever Jr./Infiniti, 200
5. Robbie Buhl/Infiniti, 199
Laps Led: Oldsmobile 165, Infiniti 35
Starters: Oldsmobile 21, Infiniti 2
Running at Finish: Oldsmobile 11, Infiniti 2
Manufacturer/Points (victories in parentheses)
1. Oldsmobile, 107 (10)
2. Infiniti, 80 (1)
Sept. 2, 2001, Delphi Indy 300, Chicagoland Speedway, Joliet, Ill., 1.5-mile oval
TV: ABC, 4 p.m. EDT